How To Use Instagram For Business

To paraphrase Anglican bishop, philosopher, and writer, George Barkley, “if you are a brand and you are not on Instagram, are you even a brand”?

If you are on Instagram, then the penny has already dropped. You have realised just how important this platform is for your presence, reputation, creditability and your marketing strategy.

Why Is Instagram Important For Businesses?

Instagram has evolved from a run-of-the-mill photo-sharing app for aspiring photographers to 1 of the top 10 most used social media channels in the world; in a nutshell, just about everybody uses Instagram nowadays. To be precise, Instagram revealed back in December that there are now 600 million active monthly users that are responsible for posting more than 95 million photos and videos daily.

All this data points overwhelmingly to the fact that people are spending plenty of time on Instagram, meaning it is now one of the most useful and essential tools for brand-building in every industry vertical. Add to that the fact that GlobalWebIndex discovered that 34% of all Instagram users actively follow brands they are thinking of buying from, and 1 in 10 use the “Shop Now” button on Instagram sponsored posts, and you have got yourself a pretty powerful platform.

The same study by GlobalWebIndex revealed that 4 in 10 internet users have an Instagram account and on average spend around 2.81 hours each day on social networking.

How Many Brands Use Instagram?

Last year a study by eMarketer estimated that 48.8% of US brands were using Instagram for marketing purposes, more interestingly they have predicted that this figure is set to rise to a whopping 70.7% by the end of 2017.  So, hopefully, you have by now figured out that your business should be on Instagram to stay on top of your game.

Below, Digital Allies have put together a free and extremely actionable guide on how to use Instagram to help your business achieve your overall marketing goals.

The Importance of Instagram for Brand Building

According to top molecular biologist Dr John Medina, when we read information, we’re likely to only remember 10% of the contained information three days later.

However, if a relevant image is paired with that same information, we retain 65% of the information three days later. You can see this phenomenon in practice by looking at Facebook’s estimated ad recall rate, and comparing the ad recall rate for ads with images and those without.

When the Social Media Examiner conducted a study at the end of last year, looking at brand marketers’ opinions on the importance of visual content marketing, the survey revealed that 37% of marketers said visual marketing was the most important form of content for their business. This figure was second only to blogging.

What’s more, 74% of brand marketers surveyed said they were more likely to use visual assets in their social media marketing ahead of both blogs and videos.

Although not entirely surprising, the study also highlighted that B2C marketers place greater importance on visual content than B2B. However, 51% of B2B brands questioned stated that the creation of visual content assets was a key focus in the coming months.

How To Create An Instagram Account For Your Business

First things first. If you do not already have an Instagram account for your business, you are going to need one:

  • To create an Instagram account, start by downloading the app from the Apple App Store or Google Play; both the app and sign-up are completely free.
  • When signing up, it would be wise to use a master email and a secure password.
  • Once you have finished the initial sign-up, you will be directed to complete your profile; it would be wise to take your time with this part of the profile:
  • Make sure you highlight your brands’ USP
  • Add some basic optimisation to your profile, such as Address and Post Code.
  • Your username should match your other branded social media profiles for discoverability and consistency. Therefore, your real name in this instance is your company name.
  • Within your profile, users will be able to see your username along with:
  • A URL pointing to anywhere on your website (ideally your homepage)
  • A short 150-character bio
  • A profile picture.

For your bio, since you only have 150 characters, keep it short, sweet and succinct; explain what your business is, what you do and what the audience can expect from you.

Your profile photo should be your brand’s logo, making the account recognisable. Instagram profile pictures display as a 110 x 110 pixel circle on the app, so we suggest that you choose an image that is 180 x 180 pixels so your picture is optimised for both mobile and desktop versions of Instagram.

Instagram Business Tools For Brands

Instagram rolled out business tools for brands on the platform back in May last year. These tools are very similar to Facebook Brand Pages, as they allow users to easily find key information about businesses such as phone numbers and contact emails with a single tap.

Image Credit

In addition to basic contact information, there is also an ‘insights’ feature, which enables businesses to track what sort of audience they are reaching and learn more about the types of content that are the most engaging for their audience.

Within insights, you can also access demographics data, which makes it much easier for brand marketers to understand their audience and find people that might be interested in their services or products.

You can also turn well-preforming posts into ads within the app, helping you connect with even more customers. As both Instagram and Facebook use the same advertising platform and functionality, you can select the most appropriate target audience for your ads, by utilising demographic-, interest-, and behaviour-based targeting.

Another more recent feature of Instagram is ‘Instagram Stories’, spontaneity which lets you share your brand’s activity in a slideshow format using images, videos alongside innovative text and drawing tools. This feature allows for spontaneity, as your stories will disappear after 24 hours and will not show up in your feed or your profile grid; you can also sponsor your Instagram Stories to increase overall awareness of your brand.

Identifying Your Audience

Since Instagram is an open platform, you can use it to research and analyse how your competitors are using Instagram to communicate with their (and arguably, your) target audience.

Researching your competitors on Instagram will also give you some valuable insight into what types of visual content your target audiences is more likely to engage with.

For example, if I were a new clothing brand for men and women, ASOS would without a doubt be one of my main competitors (at the time of writing, ASOS had 5.7 million followers on Instagram, so, they must be doing something right).

Therefore, if I were to research their social profiles, I could look at their demographic breakdown using Facebook Audience Insights to see that 72% of their followers are female, 81% of which, are between 18-35.

Take a look at ASOS’ Instagram feed, and you will immediately see a perfectly curated feed for girls between 18-24. Featuring bright pastel colours, lifestyle shots and scrapbook images including young looking female models that their target audience can relate to, which they will be more likely to like and comment as it helps them to define themselves to their peers – a key reason for sharing content online.

Creating an Instagram Strategy

Before you dive in head-first, use Instagram yourself before you use it for your brand. Research other brands on Instagram, check out the best businesses on Instagram and your competitors for inspiration plus competitive intelligence. Your strategy should correlate with your social media marketing plan which should act as a guideline for your brand’s social media presence.

Start by establishing your Instagram targets for example:

  • Drive traffic to your website
  • Increase brand awareness
  • Increase sales for your product or services
  • Drive traffic to your other social media platforms
  • Have the most followers out of main competitors

Your desired goals should always be SMART:

  • S – Specific
  • M – Measurable
  • A – Achievable
  • R – Realistic
  • T – Time-based

For example, Digital Allies would never set a goal to sign up ten new clients up through Instagram for a particular service we offer, as this is not realistic for a number of reasons.

However, we could set a goal to post three times per week for the next quarter, which is something we can realistically work towards as well as measure. For an excellent example of how to set SMART goals, check out Dr. Pete’s guide to setting goals.

Once you’ve established what you want to achieve, you then need to figure out how you are going to do it. This involves implementing the below as part of your strategy:

  • Choosing how often to post
  • Deciding on what time of day to post
  • Choosing your content themes
  • Establishing a content calendar

How Often Should You Post On Instagram?

We would always recommend maintaining a regular posting schedule and stick to a plan that won’t bombard your followers with too many posts or information. On average, most brands post 1-3 images per day.

What Is The Best Time Of Day To Post On Instagram?

What time you post will depend on your audience. Morning is usually a good time to post because 61% of people wake up and check their phones 5 minutes after, according to Deloitte Global Mobile Consumer Survey of 2016. Hootsuite put together a strategy to test when the best time of day to post on Instagram and the test revealed that between 12 pm to 1 pm Monday to Friday is the best time to post in terms of engagement. The best way to test this for your brand is to post at different times of the day and see what works best for you.

However, one caveat to this is Instagram’s new timeline algorithm. Similar to Google’s ranking algorithm, Instagram is now rearranging users feeds to show them what it thinks they want to see first rather than showing posts in chronological order. Instagram reported that on average we miss 70% of our feeds. Therefore, they decided to order your feed to show you moments they believe you will care about most.

How To Decide On A Content Theme for Instagram?

Alongside the day-to-day tactics that will help you to use Instagram to contribute towards your digital marketing strategy, you should consider how your images will contribute to communicate and reinforce your brand and positioning.

Since Instagram is all about the visuals, you need to build a cohesive, recognisable brand identity that your target audience can relate to. Therefore, you will need to decide what content themes your photos will cover. For the perfect example of this, check out this article on food porn and the concept of “protein in motion”, which many Instagrammers use to attract the eye of their followers and convey freshness.

You don’t have to be a product-based brand to present your values and style via Instagram, check out how B2B businesses are marketing themselves via Instagram and their content.

However, one thing to bear in mind when it comes to posting images on Instagram is the phenomenon of vemödalen. This is the frustration that arises from photographing something amazing when thousands of identical photos are already in existence; whether that’s a picture of a building, a sunset, or a pair of hot dog legs on the beach.

You take a picture because it represents a unique experience for you, but the depressing reality is that with everyone having a camera in his or her pocket, at some point, someone has already taken an almost identical picture that you have.

Therefore, you need to look at the classic design challenge of how can you take something that exists – the Instagram photo – and make it better? You could do this through always taking pictures from a particular angle, using a certain aesthetic consistency or adding expressive captions to describe your images in a way that aligns with your brand.

When it comes to the pictures or videos you post, always look at how your Instagram imagery can tie-in with your existing brand guidelines if you have them. Choose a particular filter or set of filters that you will use for the majority of your images, which will make your images recognisable to your audience as being associated with your brand. For a good example of this, you would be wise to check out TRNK New York (@trnknyc), who post a stylish selection of their own homeware products as well as interior tips and culinary tricks. This strategy helps their followers to imagine what sort of lifestyle they could see themselves as having if they bought their products.

Team lunch ?

A post shared by TRNK (@trnknyc) on

As a handy reference for your Instagram feed, Buzzfeed has put together this quick quiz to decide what theme you should follow, depending on factors like a travel lusts, food preferences, colour schemes, favourite animals and more.

How To Build Up A Targeted Following On Instagram

Another aspect of your strategy that you will need to consider is how you will build up your following amongst your target audience.

Posting and sharing relevant visually pleasing images is a good start. But, there are non-visual elements to your Instagram brand, like common language or style for captions.

1. Use Hashtags But Don’t Overdo It

Hashtags are essential, as they make the content of your post discoverable to your target audience, even if they are not your followers. This will give you a better chance of attracting new fans, gaining more likes and increasing engagement.

Although this may seem tautological, posts with at least one hashtag average 12.6% more engagement than those without according to a study by Simply Measured. The hashtags you will use depend on what space your business operates in, they must be relevant to you as a business and the image you are posting.

For example, if you were a travel brand, you would use travel related hashtags with high post volume. The best way to research into hashtags is by using the search bar on Instagram and do some research into what hashtags your competitors are using.

2. Quality, Not Quantity

In an article on viral Instagram content, Forbes stressed that you must invest time and energy into the quality of your content as opposed to the ‘quantity over quality’ mindset adopted by some brands.

3. Cross-post Where Relevant

When you upload content, make sure you cross-post your Instagram images. The Instagram app allows you to post images directly to Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Flickr and Foursquare.

This will help you grow your following by showing your followers on your other social networks that you’re on Instagram.

4. Know Your Geography

If you are a business with a bricks and mortar location, such as a hairdressing salon, make sure you tag your location within your images since the location tag can make you discoverable to new followers. The location tag can be used by users to see other pictures from your salon or place of business.

If you don’t have an offline location, consider posting photos of places you have been such as Exhibitions or Conferences, as this will help you to be discovered by an audience with similar interests and motivations.

5. Show and Tell

Support your images with a caption to tell a story. Since Instagram puts a heavy emphasis on its visual component, captions are often neglected. However, they are just as much as part of telling your brand story as your images are. Captions allow you to expand on your pictures and add more context!

6. Interact, Interact and then Interact Some More

When it comes to engagement, you must interact with your followers. Do your best to reply to comments, return likes and follows.

7. Tell Your Brand’s Story

As we have already mentioned, a new feature that Instagram added in August last year was ‘Instagram Stories’, in less than six months of the feature being released it had 150 million daily active users, meaning there is plenty of opportunities to use Stories to boost your brand.

In comparison, it took Snapchat six years to reach the same number. Instagram have boasted that one-third of the most viewed Stories come from businesses, plus that one in five Instagram Stories gets a direct message from its viewers, and roughly 70% are watched with the sound on. Snapchat is reportedly feeling the crunch as a result of Instagram’s new feature, Delmondo’s CEO Nick Cicero has revealed that the average number of unique views per Snapchat Story has decreased approximately 40% from August 2016 to November 2016.

Hopefully, by now that penny we talked about has dropped. If before reading this, you were unsure about where or how your business would sit on Instagram, surely, you have grasped just how major this platform is to your marketing strategy.

Instagram is a free and extremely useful tool to present your brand directly in front of your target audiences. The app is evolving and growing every single day, it would be foolish not to take advantage of this resource as part of your social media channels.

If you still don’t feel like you are ready to take over Instagram with your brand and need some extra help, take a look at our content marketing services page to see how we help brands to craft compelling digital marketing strategies.


The Digital Allies newsletter brings you free resources and new thinking about all aspects of digital marketing. By signing up for it you will get notice of our events before anyone else and we will only be in touch if we have something that we think you will be interested in.  You can unsubscribe at any time. See our privacy policy for more information on how we take care of your information.